Cornell Opts to Go Test Optional for Admissions



Students work together during an improv workshop
Source: Cornell College Facebook





Tests are usually seen as a difficult and often intimidating part of a student’s life, for some more than others. Many talented students have excellent applications, but don’t take tests well which can be detrimental to trying to apply to schools; this is no longer the case at Cornell. Beginning with students applying for the 2016-17 school year, applicants may choose not to submit any ACT or SAT scores with their Cornell application.

The college is moving forward with a three-year pilot program judging the viability of a test-optional application format at Cornell, and it is believed the program will be successful.This move comes after over two years of research and many studies. Over 185 other top-tier liberal arts colleges have already implemented similar programs, including competing schools Beloit and Knox – which have had such applications for one and nine years, respectively.

Cornell statistics professor Ann Cannon performed one study, coming to the conclusion that ACT and SAT test scores are not always accurate predictors of college performance, especially at a highly rigorous college like Cornell. A second study was published by professor of psychology Melinda Green, who concluded that a variety of factors contribute to a student’s success in college, and that a high school GPA was actually the most accurate predictor, a conclusion backed by a similar study performed at University of California at Berkeley. In addition, national studies have found that test optional and test variable options broaden the reach of colleges, causing them to receive more applications from minority and first generation students.

Applications at Cornell will proceed through three different formats. The first is the standard Common Application, through which students can apply to over 400 different institutions. The second is a Cornell College-specific application, which requires essays and test scores. The third is the new method of application, for which students will be expected to answer two essay questions – concerning their motivation and why they feel they would fit at Cornell – and submit a portfolio of work, which are considered along with the student’s GPA and core classes. What the portfolio – submitted electronically through a website called ZeeMee which accepts any type of file and specializes in helping students create profiles to submit directly to schools of their choice – entails is very broad.

“It’s a way for students to show us what their strengths are and what they can contribute to this community,” said vice president for enrollment and Dean of Admission Colleen Murphy. Basically, anything goes; blogs, vlogs, video interviews, documentation of an internship or community project. Anything that portrays an applicant’s strengths and are portfolio-worthy.

As Cornell is considered a fairly rigorous school for applications, many prospective students who would add to the diverse community may be warned off by the ACT and SAT requirements. By providing a more holistic approach, Murphy and Dean of Students Gwen Schimek hope that by making Cornell a test-optional school, more prospective students will apply and find a match in Cornell.


Isabel Stone, Staff Writer